The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine

Via:  john-russell  •  8 months ago  •  5 comments

The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine
By mid-summer, the Times and other mainstream outlets, most notably Bloomberg News, had more or less knocked down the conspiracy theories. By then, Trump was so invested in the counterfactual narrative that he was demanding that Ukraine’s new President provide confirmation of it, as the whistle-blower’s complaint relates.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine

For   nearly two years, conservative operatives have been trying to weaponize the Ukraine-based story that has led Trump to the brink of impeachment. A look back over the coverage of the story—a repeatedly discredited conspiracy theory involving Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s work in Ukraine—suggests that America’s news organizations continue to be just as susceptible to manipulation by political partisans pushing complicated and hard-to-check foreign narratives as they were in 2016. In fact, several of the same players are involved. “There’s no effective mechanism in this country for weeding disinformation out,” Paul Barrett, the deputy director of N.Y.U.’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and the author of the recent study “ Disinformation and the 2020 Election ,” said. “We’re not doing anything about it at all.”

Anyone trying to track the Ukrainian conspiracy stories that were eventually embraced by President Trump is likely to get mired in the same echo chamber of right-wing news purveyors that misinformed voters in 2016. A pivotal source of the allegations against the Bidens, for instance, is the Government Accountability Institute, a Florida-based opposition-research operation that was founded by the former Trump political adviser Stephen Bannon—the same conservative nonprofit that ginned up questionable stories about the Clintons during the last Presidential campaign. In both instances, much of the coverage of the scandal was kicked off by Peter Schweizer, a longtime conservative political writer who is an editor-at-large at Breitbart News and the president of the Government Accountability Institute. Since its founding, in 2012, the group has largely been funded with millions of dollars in tax-exempt donations from the family foundation of the New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Mercer, who was a major donor to Trump’s 2016 campaign. In the organization’s most recently available I.R.S. tax filings, for 2017, Mercer’s daughter Rebekah is listed as the board chairman.

Asked about the Government Accountability Institute’s role in this year’s Biden scandal coverage, Bannon e-mailed to say, “It’s key. It was the predicate,” as it had been for much of the previous Clinton scandal coverage. As Joshua Green describes in “ Devil’s Bargain ,” his book, from 2017, about Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign, Bannon designed the organization as a means of transmitting partisan dirt-digging to the mainstream media. He realized that, though mainstream reporters were suspicious of partisan opinion, they were open to damning facts about public figures, regardless of the sourcing. He set out, with Schweizer, to produce material that would generate mainstream coverage, and right-wing outrage.

Thus, during the last Presidential campaign, under the auspices of the Government Accountability Institute, Schweizer published the best-selling book “ Clinton Cash .” In a novel arrangement, he doled out negative scoops about the Clintons from it in advance to a variety of mainstream news outlets, including the   Times . The paper disclosed its exclusive deal with the book’s author to its readers, and maintained that it independently verified and expanded on the information. But when it ran a front-page   story   derived from the book on April 24, 2015, the   Times   stirred controversy and criticism, including from its own public editor.

The story insinuated that, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had risked national security by facilitating the sale of American uranium mines to Russia in exchange for more than two million dollars in contributions to the Clinton Foundation from the businessmen behind the deal, who worked for a company called Uranium One. The story enabled Clinton’s opponents to frame her as greedy and corrupt. Even a year after she had lost the race, the Fox News host Sean Hannity was still invoking it on air, calling it “the biggest scandal ever involving Russia.”

Yet   later   reporting poked holes in the story’s insinuation of corruption, revealing that multiple government agencies—not just Clinton’s State Department—had approved the deal, and that the amount of uranium involved was negligible. (Schweizer didn’t respond to phone calls from   The New Yorker .) On Thursday, the Daily Beast   identified   what it said were over a dozen passages in his book, “ Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends ,” that were lifted from other sources, such as Wikipedia—a charge that his publisher, HarperCollins, denied amounted to a violation of fair use.

For those who recall the “Clinton Cash” controversy, the baseless tales claiming that Biden corruptly intervened on behalf of his son’s Ukrainian business interests feel a lot like the movie “Groundhog Day.” In March of 2018, Schweizer and the Government Accountability Institute once again produced a book that was perfectly timed for the Presidential campaign. “Secret Empires” devoted a chapter to the subject of “Bidens in Ukraine,” which laid out the conflicts of interest posed by the wheeling and dealing of Biden’s son Hunter. (An additional chapter laid out Hunter Biden’s business deals in China.) As the book recounted, in 2014, Hunter Biden, a Washington lobbyist, took a profitable post on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company run by a shady oligarch, while his father, who was then the Vice-President, handled a drive to rid Ukraine of corruption. Other news organizations, including the   Times   and the   Wall Street   Journal,   had already run stories on the same unethical-seeming morass. (In July,   The New Yorker   published a piece about the relationship between Joe and   Hunter Biden   that dismissed allegations of any illegality in the Ukraine matter but included some concerns from Obama Administration officials that Hunter could potentially undermine his father’s work.)

But Schweizer went a step further. His chapter implied not just that Burisma was a crooked company but that the end of a Ukrainian criminal investigation into it on January 12, 2017, was in some unstated way connected to Joe Biden’s visit to the country four days later. In this way, Schweizer floated the possibility that, as Vice-President, Biden had abused his power to protect the company or his son from prosecution. Yet Schweizer provided no proof of causation nor evidence of illegality.

As he rolled out his new book, Schweizer promoted it in all the usual conservative news outlets, including “Hannity” and “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” on Fox News. But the turning point in the Biden coverage, it appears, was in late 2018, when Trump’s private lawyer and political advocate, the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, got involved. That winter, Giuliani began speaking to current and former Ukrainian officials about the Biden conspiracy theory, and meeting with them repeatedly in New York and Europe. Among those officials was Viktor Shokin, a former top Ukrainian prosecutor who was sacked in March, 2016, after European and U.S. officials, including Joe Biden, complained that he was lax in curbing corruption. Shokin claimed that he had lost his powerful post not because of his poor performance but rather because Biden wanted to stop his investigation of Burisma, in order to protect his son. The facts didn’t back this up. The Burisma investigation had been dormant under Shokin. But in March, according to   NBC News , Giuliani gave the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, a packet of Trump Hotel folders containing the purported evidence against Biden, including Giuliani’s interview with Shokin and his strategy to spread the Biden story, “including segments being placed on Fox News.” Before long, this explosive, politically useful legend took on a life of its own in America’s conservative media.

As an anonymous whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress revealed, and as the Washington   Post   has reported, no journalist played a bigger part in fuelling the Biden corruption narrative than John Solomon, who until last week was an opinion columnist and executive vice-president of   The Hill , in Washington. Solomon had been a respected investigative reporter for the Washington   Post , but in recent years he worked for overtly conservative outlets, including a stint as the editor of the Washington   Times . As Giuliani conspired this past spring with questionable Ukrainian sources, Solomon pumped out a string of eye-catching stories echoing those sources’ claims about the Bidens. This appears to have been no coincidence. According to NBC, the Giuliani documents show that Solomon’s columns were part of the Trump team’s strategy. ( The New Yorker   was unable to reach John Solomon, and a question e-mailed to the editor of   The Hill , about whether the publication stood by Solomon’s stories, went unanswered.)

This spring, Solomon wrote a series of columns, based on an interview with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko. On March 26th, Solomon   wrote a column   about Lutsenko’s claim that the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, an Obama holdover named Marie Yovanovitch, had given him a list of politically protected figures that he was forbidden from prosecuting—a charge the State Department dismissed as “an outright fabrication.” That same day, Solomon wrote another column suggesting a new investigation into Clinton, which he shared in a tweet, writing, “Did Ukraine try to secretly help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election? Chief prosecutor says there’s enough evidence to start investigating.”

On April 1st, Solomon turned his focus to Biden, writing a column for   The Hill   called “Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian Nightmare,” which   claimed   that Ukraine was reopening its criminal probe into Burisma. It also repeated the unsubstantiated claim that Shokin’s investigation into the company had been cut short at the behest of Biden.

In Solomon’s April 1st column, he cited Schweizer’s book. Two days later, Schweizer sent “kudos” to Solomon during an interview on Breitbart News, and added, “We’re talking about potentially legal jeopardy involving the Vice-President’s family.” Schweizer opined that it was “all the sort of thing that needs to be investigated and looked into by a grand jury,” and added, “it’s pretty clear that you have a pattern that the for-sale sign was open with the Biden family . . . and that in itself demands investigation in the United States.”

Soon, both Schweizer and Solomon were appearing repeatedly on Fox News, spreading the anti-Biden narrative further. According to the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, during the month of April, Fox ran at least twelve segments about Solomon’s reporting on Biden. After one of seven episodes in which Sean Hannity discussed it on his show,   President Trump tweeted a reference   to Solomon’s reporting. His son Donald Trump, Jr., took up the narrative, too, and   tweeted a link to a story   in the Daily Wire, a conservative outlet, which echoed Solomon’s claims.

On April 7th, Giuliani appeared on Fox and demanded that the Justice Department investigate the Democrats’ Ukraine dealings. On April 25th, the same day that Joe Biden officially declared that he was running for President, Trump himself called in to Hannity’s show on Fox,   saying   that he wanted the Attorney General, Bill Barr, to be involved. By raising the spectre of a criminal investigation, Trump, a President dogged by allegations of corruption had, with the help of the conservative echo chamber, managed to cast his chief political rival in a parallel story, leaving the public in a   fog of suspicion and confusion. As Barrett, of N.Y.U., explained it, “The consequence is that we begin to inch our way towards the mire that Russians are in where ordinary people lose their ability to tell truth from untruth, and even cease caring about it.”

By May, the mainstream media, including the   Times , had picked up on the story about Biden and Ukraine. Although the   Times’   piece ran under a headline pointing out that that the scandal was being “promoted by Trump and Allies,” and, midway, noted that there was no evidence of criminality, critics attacked the paper for reprising the Uranium One playbook. “It’s precisely what we saw in the last election,” Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and the co-author of the recent book “ Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics ,” told me. Benkler argues that when a publication with the   Times’   credibility pays any attention to a fringe conspiracy theory, it “provides enormous validation” just by covering the story. “I don’t fault the   Times   for doing a story,” he said. “But it’s not like the nineteen-sixties anymore, when there were just three TV networks. You live in a country where a large part of the population is susceptible to propaganda. There’s a new editorial responsibility to be much more careful and not bury the denial.”

By mid-summer, the   Times   and other mainstream outlets, most notably   Bloomberg News , had more or less knocked down the conspiracy theories. By then, Trump was so invested in the counterfactual narrative that he was demanding that Ukraine’s new President provide confirmation of it, as the whistle-blower’s complaint relates. Or, as documents released by Congress earlier this week revealing discussions between his emissaries to Ukraine put it, “Potus really wants the deliverable.” With Trump facing the prospect of impeachment in the House of Representatives, it appears that he is a   casualty of his side’s own disinformation . “Whether Trump and Giuliani are dupes of their own propaganda I can’t say. But the timeline is completely consistent with that,” Benkler said. “Either way, it proves that running an Administration based on Hannity is dangerous.”


jrDiscussion - desc
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1  seeder  JohnRussell    8 months ago
No journalist played a bigger part in fueling the Biden corruption narrative than John Solomon, and documents reportedly show that his columns were part of the Trump team’s strategy. Mayer-UkraineConspiracyOrigins.jpg
2  seeder  JohnRussell    8 months ago

Timeline in Ukraine Probe Casts Doubt on Giuliani’s Biden Claim

President   Donald Trump’s   personal lawyer is raising the specter that Joe Biden intervened in Ukrainian politics to help his son’s business.

But if that was Biden’s aim, he was more than a year late, based on a timeline laid out by a former Ukrainian official and in Ukrainian documents.

The official described to Bloomberg details about the country’s political dynamic in the run-up to early 2016 when Biden, then the U.S. vice president, threatened to hold up U.S. funding to Ukraine unless it cracked down on corruption. Biden’s chief demand was the ouster of a top Ukrainian prosecutor who he said had been ineffective. The episode has come under the spotlight in the last week because at one point, that prosecutor had been investigating a natural gas company where Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board and received substantial compensation.

There’s little question that the Bidens’ paths in Ukraine held the potential for conflict, and in a tweet last week, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the U.S. should investigate the matter. But what has received less attention is that at the time Biden made his ultimatum, the probe into the company --   Burisma Holdings , owned by Mykola Zlochevsky -- had been long dormant, according to the former official, Vitaliy Kasko.

“There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,” Kasko said in an interview last week. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”

Kasko’s assessment adds a wrinkle to one of the first political intrigues of the 2020 election season. It undercuts the idea that Biden, now a top Democratic presidential candidate, was seeking to sideline a prosecutor who was actively threatening a company tied to his son. Instead, it appears more consistent with Biden’s previous statements that he was pressing for the removal of a prosecutor who was failing to tackle rampant corruption: According to public reports and internal documents from the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, U.S. officials had expressed concern for more than a year about Ukrainian prosecutors’ failure to assist an international investigation of Zlochevsky.

Joe Biden declined to comment through a spokesman, who also said that Hunter Biden wouldn’t comment. Zlochevsky couldn’t be located for comment. Representatives for Burisma, which is based in Cyprus, didn’t respond to emails requesting comment.

Questions about the potential Ukraine conflict resurfaced with recent reports of a  video  in which Joe Biden described how he’d threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees from Ukraine unless its leaders dismissed Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. The New York Times  reported  on May 1 that Hunter Biden had a stake in the outcome because at the time he was on the board of Zlochevsky’s company, where he was paid as much as $50,000 a month for his work.

Hunter Biden joined the board in April 2014, two months after U.K. authorities requested information from Ukraine as part of a probe against Zlochevsky related to money laundering allegations. Zlochevsky had been minister of environmental protection under then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February 2014 after mass protests.

After the U.K. request, Ukrainian prosecutors opened their own case, accusing Zlochevsky of embezzling public funds. Burisma and Zlochevsky have denied the allegations.

The case against Zlochevsky and his Burisma Holdings was assigned to Shokin, then a deputy prosecutor. But Shokin and others weren’t pursuing it, according to the internal reports from the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office reviewed by Bloomberg.

In a December 2014 letter, U.S. officials warned Ukrainian prosecutors of negative consequences for Ukraine over its failure to assist the U.K., which had seized Zlochevsky’s assets, according to the documents.

Those funds, $23.5 million, were unblocked in 2015 when a British court determined there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the continued freeze, in part because Ukrainian prosecutors had failed to provide the necessary information.

No Action

Shokin became prosecutor general in February 2015. Over the next year, the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund criticized officials for not doing enough to fight corruption in Ukraine.

Shokin took no action to pursue cases against Zlochevsky throughout 2015, said Kasko, who was Shokin’s deputy overseeing international cooperation and helping in asset-recovery investigations. Kasko said he had urged Shokin to pursue the investigations.

The U.S. stepped up its criticism in September 2015, when its ambassador to Ukraine, during a speech,   accused   officials working under Shokin of “subverting” the U.K. investigation.

Kasko resigned in February 2016, citing corruption and lawlessness in the prosecutor general’s office.

The U.S. plan to push for Shokin’s dismissal didn’t initially come from Biden, but rather filtered up from officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. Embassy personnel had called for U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine to be tied to broader anti-corruption efforts, including Shokin’s dismissal, this person said.

Biden’s threat to withhold $1 billion if Ukraine didn’t crack down on corruption   reportedly   came in March. That same month, hundreds of Ukrainians demonstrated outside President Petro Poroshenko’s office demanding Shokin’s resignation, and he was dismissed.

Shokin has denied any accusations of wrongdoing and declined to provide immediate comment for this article. In an   interview   with the Ukrainian website published on May 6, Shokin said he believes he was fired because of his Burisma investigation, which he said had been active at the time.

In October 2017, Burisma issued a statement saying Ukrainian prosecutors had closed all legal and criminal proceedings against it.

No Convictions

Earlier this year, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, met with Trump attorney Giuliani, and the two discussed the Burisma investigation, according to Lutsenko’s spokeswoman Larysa Sargan.

Sargan said the prosecutor general hasn’t reopened the case into Burisma or Zlochevsky, contradicting a claim in the New York Times that the Ukrainian prosecutor is scrutinizing millions of dollars of payments from Burisma to the firm that paid Hunter Biden. Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, a Times spokeswoman said, “We stand by our reporting, which is detailed and well documented.”

Ukraine’s incoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is likely to appoint his own top prosecutor to replace Lutsenko. Under Poroshenko, Ukraine hasn’t convicted any high-ranking officials of corruption.

Giuliani has been pressing for greater scrutiny of the Biden matter. “Biden conflicts are too apparent to be ignored and should be investigated quickly and expeditiously,” Giuliani tweeted, sharing a link to the Times’s story.

President Donald Trump has also referenced potential conflicts of interest by Joe Biden, one of the Democrats currently seen as having the greatest chance to defeat him.

“Sure, I’m hearing it’s a major scandal, major problem,” Trump said. “I hope for him it is fake news. I don’t think it is.”

In an interview with Bloomberg in December 2015 when he was vice president, Biden said he’d never discussed Burisma with his son or with Ukrainian officials. “No one has ever raised that with me in Ukraine,” he said. “I don’t talk to my son” about his work.

Hunter Biden, 49, is a son of Joe Biden’s late wife, Neilia, who was killed in a car accident when he was a child. Biden, a Yale-educated lawyer, was   discharged   from the Navy Reserve in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine and joined the Burisma board shortly after. The company’s website listed him as a board member as recently as last month, but he has since left the position.
3  bbl-1    8 months ago

This latest Trumpian orgasm is only more flotsam in a sea of flotsam.  The ( Stormy Who ) crowd ain't got much except Manafort sweating it out in prison and Cohen taking the fall for hush money payments.  And hell, Mexico still ain't paying for the damn wall.

3.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  bbl-1 @3    8 months ago

I would rather not have to spend so much time here posting material that debunks right wing political conspiracies, unfortunately it has to be done. 

3.1.1  bbl-1  replied to  JohnRussell @3.1    8 months ago

I fully understand.  But.  The 40% or so are cultist.  Even the bible speaks of those that are 'beyond all redemption.'

Is it hopeless.  Never.  When hope dies---it takes life with it.


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